At the centre of the Incan world…

Days: 294-295 & 298-303 (15 April 2015 – 23 April 2015)

Total distance travelled: 57,387.3 kilometres (35,644.29 miles)

Cusco, one time capital of the greatest pre-Hispanic empire to cover the Andes.

Finally, after 294 days of travel, we were here, at one of the destinations most anticipated.

With a hostel booked in advance this time (after a lengthy overnight bus, we didn’t feel like wandering aimlessly), we set off from the bus station, back now at altitude after a little time down at sea level.

The difference was apparent immediately.

Not difficult, like our crazy day at the Pastoruri Glacier, but rather just noticeable for the extra effort needed to suck up normally simple breath.

Indeed, the early morning ride into town had again seen me glued to the window, fascinated by the site of gargantuan snow-capped peaks above.

Truly a thing of beauty…

The snow-capped, beautiful surrounds

The snow-capped, beautiful surrounds

Turns out however, our efforts with google maps in search of this hostel had not been so faultless.

Both our estimates on the distance fell a little shy, then so too did our map itself.

Nevertheless, combined with our Lonely Planet, we got ourselves to our pad, clocked our heads a couple of times on the low dormitory ceilings, then settled ourselves in to our new surrounds.

As for first impressions, well they’re difficult to assess for this UNESCO World Heritage listed city.

For Sarah, it was actually her second visit, whilst for me, I probably found it, at least initially, a little bit like Mexico’s San Cristobal, a little bit overhyped.

Before you hoot and holler (for those who are firmly in Cusco’s pocket), in my defence, I did say at first.

To wander the cobbled streets of Cusco, leaves one unable to be impressed by the incredible stonework of the original Incan inhabitants.

Huge blocks of stone, so precisely cut that no mortar is required, & that have withstood centuries of seismic activity (major earthquakes struck the city in both 1650 & 1950). To see them is to be impressed!

The incredible remnants of the Incan Cusco (the Spanish built directly atop the foundations of the buildings they plundered)

The incredible remnants of the Incan Cusco (the Spanish built directly atop the foundations of the buildings they plundered)

One of the more famous, a 12 sided cut stone (left) & using the lure of colour, tourist shops abound (right)

One of the more famous, a twelve sided cut stone! (left) & using the lure of colour, tourist shops abound (right)

Whilst most of our activities in the area, we spent around & a little further afield from Cusco, we did find a few bits to entertain us within.

To our delight, our Canadian friends Dave and Cyd were still in the area (met in Galapagos, but last spied in Huaraz), so it allowed us the chance to tee up one final farewell, before they jet on up to Costa Rica.

With dinner plans made, we explored a little more, taking in the blend of ancient Incan, colonial Spanish and the odd modern touch, all of which added a little something (with the exception of the Starbucks, McDonalds and KFC logos) to this historic capital.

The more I saw, the more I warmed… and again, who couldn’t be impressed by those stone blocks!

The closest we got to the interior of the main cathedral after refusing to pay…

The closest we got to the interior of the main cathedral after refusing to pay…

A great night with Dave & Cyd (left) as well as their friend Ron

A great night with Dave and Cyd (left) as well as their friend Ron

We passed the night with some shared pizzas, decent micro-brews and plenty of good conversation, before the night was done, they were gone and we were again left to our own devices to explore the city.

Other surprises?

Well normally we’d barely glance at a crepery as a dining option, but whilst glancing at restaurants on Tripadvisor (purely for ideas, we generally ignore the ratings) the key words ‘Salted Caramel’ were spotted, so we simply had to check this place out.

This place happened to be La Bo’M, and the day we went seeking it, it also happened to be closed!

Undeterred, we returned for lunch on another day (I say stupidly, they aren’t open for breakfasts), where we got our fill of sweet crepe delight.

So good they were, we returned here for lunch on our final Cusco afternoon many days later (their savoury efforts aren’t bad either).

We used our Boleto Turistico (purchased from the office near the top of Avenida Sol) on many sites without the city, but also several within, although if you’re going to be solely in Cusco, I’d probably not recommend the spend on the ticket (only one of the four museums we visited in Cusco was truly worth it, but all the sites farther afield were great).

One of those was the statue of Pachacutec, both home to a small museum and observation tower.

Imposing as a round-about, it failed somewhat as a museum, whilst the views from the top, they were okay, but could have also been much better…

On the approach to Pachacutec (left) a belt of green breaks up an otherwise unremarkable street view from the top (right)

On the approach to Pachacutec (left) a belt of green breaks up an otherwise unremarkable street view from the top (right)

On other days, we randomly stumbled upon tributes to/celebrations of the city’s history. Great for their colour and pomp, but perhaps not so good for us as we explored a nearby museum which as a result was partially closed, but with no discount or refund offered…

Still the show they put on to celebrate Cusco was at least somewhat decent.

Reliving the glory days of the Inca, panpipes, microphones & all (left) & the most colourful rendition of the YMCA yet seen (right)

Reliving the glory days of the Inca, panpipes, microphones and all (left) & The most colourful rendition of the YMCA yet seen (right)

A most joyful celebration of Cusco

A most joyful celebration of Cusco

I surely sound irreverent, and likely am to some degree, but that’s not to say we didn’t enjoy the colour and the fanfare.

Just probably not as much as the cake shop that sat across the road and there is only so much of the pan pipes that one can humanly endure (usually something by Simon and Garfunkel)…

Back in our favourite crepe joint, Sarah had spotted a flyer for an English trivia night and you know how much of a sucker for a pop quiz we are, so one of our final nights saw us wandering narrow laneways in search of this apparently scenic bar where the event was to be held.

Turns out it probably hasn’t been held in some time… or perhaps ever, as nobody there had any idea of what we were talking about, which was a real shame.

Still, the free views from near the bar were far better priced than their drinks!

Evening views over Cusco, on a night sadly devoid of trivia

Evening views over Cusco, on a night sadly devoid of trivia

Instead, that very same night, we fulfilled a wish of mine.

I’d been waiting until Cusco to indulge in my first meal of Cuy (Guinea Pig) and by now, having already done almost all we could do in and around the city, we were soon to depart and this was still not ticked off the list.

No time like the present, so find a place we did where we promptly ordered a meal of what is back home, essentially a household pet.

When our platter did arrived, with our ‘beast’ elegantly splayed from head to tail, it was time to tuck in.

The flavour, a delicious cliché sounding, similar to chicken.

When crispy, the skin was a lovely form of crackle… but sadly, given its ridiculously small size.

The meat was all too little.

Cuy, that Incan treat

Cuy, that Incan treat

Our little rodent like meal, could have really done with a heaped side of mashed potato, or something else nice and filling.

But I guess that’s just not all that elegant is it…

 

Notes:

* Our 15 hour bus trip from Nazca to Cusco cost $80.00 Soles per person (cheapest option we found, although it included no food).

* Those delicious crepes of La Bo’M can be found on Carmen Alto (yes, the place was that good it gets a mention here) with the namesake, dripping with salted caramel worth the effort of finding it, alone!

* Our ‘Boleto Turistico’ cost $130.00 Soles, which allows access to several of the city’s museums andl 16 sites in total.

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